Zimbabweans in South Africa

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Zimbabweans in South Africa
Total population
1 000 000+ estimated
Regions with significant populations
Related ethnic groups
Zimbabwean diaspora

There is a significant population of Zimbabweans in South Africa, making up South Africa's largest group of foreign migrants.[2] Estimates of their numbers range from one to five million.[2]


Temporary labour migration to South Africa has long been a feature of Rhodesian and then Zimbabwean society. A 2002 survey by the Southern African Migration Project show that almost 25% of adult Zimbabweans' parents or grandparents had worked in South Africa at some point in their lives.[3] Zimbabweans who went to South Africa in the then Rhodesia were largely Black males who sought employment in mostly in the South African mines. Immigrant labour at this time was much more preferable to the apatherd government of South Africa as it was much cheaper to hire workers from Zimbabwe and other neighbouring countries. Some Zimbabweans who went to South Africa at this time decided not to go back to Zimbabwe, deciding to marry locally and settling there permanently. However, permanent emigration is a relatively new phenomenon. There have been three major waves of emigration from Zimbabwe. The first was that of white people in Zimbabwe who left the country soon after the Lancaster House Agreement ended the Zimbabwe Rhodesia government. Some whites decided that South Africa was a more secure environment for their investments as they did not trust the new Black government that was preaching socialist idealist theories at the time of independence. The second, was that of ethnic Zimbabweans known as Gukurahundi, beginning in the 1990s. In this particular case the Ndebele people fled the country to seek refuge in neighbouring South Africa. The third was triggered by the economic woes in the country in year 2000 and beyond. These woes were social, political and economic. They culminated in enactment of the Fast Track Land Programme, hyperinflation and poor living standards in the country. In all cases, South Africa was again their primary destination. From 1994 onwards, the South African government displayed increasing hostility to skilled immigration from the rest of Africa.[4] However, this has not served to limit the number of immigrants; Zimbabwean migration to South Africa since 2000 has been described as the "largest concentrated flow" in the country's history.[5] This displeasure at the large number of Zimbabweans who were taking menial jobs from the locals led to xenophobic attacks across the country. Migrants previously consisted of young people arriving alone to look for work, but since 2000 have increasingly shifted towards women, children, and the elderly who are not able to work and require humanitarian assistance.[5] Migrants also now include professionals like teachers, doctors, nurses and engineers who have applied to stay in the country legally through visa applications in critical skills areas. These Zimbabweans have contributed positively towards the economy of the country. A large number of Zimbabweans in South Africa has also sought political and economic asylum. The South African government has also created special visas for Zimbabweans who had previously been undocumented in order to regulate their stay.

A large proportion of the migrants are irregular; they typically pay R200 to people smugglers to take them across the Limpopo River at night and coordinate with taxi drivers who transport the migrants to Johannesburg and watch for the approach of police or soldiers.[6]

Numbers and distribution[edit]

Estimates of the number of Zimbabwean migrants to South Africa since 2000 range from one to five million. Exact figures are difficult to obtain due to the large proportion of undocumented migrants.[2] There was some return migration to Zimbabwe as a result of xenophobic violence in the 2008 riots.[7] Most reside in Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and North West, with a large concentration in the more economically-advanced urban areas of Gauteng.[citation needed]

Notable people[edit]

  • Trevor Ncube, businessman
  • Roy Bennett, former parliamentarian who received asylum in South Africa in May 2007 (died in January 2018)

(SABC Presenters Peter Ndoro)



  1. ^ Polzer 2008, p. 22
  2. ^ a b c Polzer 2008, p. 6
  3. ^ Tevera & Zinyama 2002, p. 2
  4. ^ Tevera & Zinyama 2002, p. 3
  5. ^ a b Polzer 2008, p. 4
  6. ^ Guerin, Orla (2007-05-10), "Zimbabwe's starving border jumpers", BBC News, retrieved 2009-08-25
  7. ^ Lindow, Megan (2008-05-23), "Zimbabweans Fleeing South Africa", Time Magazine, retrieved 2009-08-25


External links[edit]